Sunday, April 24, 2011

Josh Charles' New Orleans Inspired Musical Stew

Josh Charles was born in California, raised in Kansas City where he was trained in classical piano before the jazz bug hit him. After High school, Josh Charles moved to New York, where he went to study at the Manhattan School of Music and studied with the legendary Barry Harris. He would play all around the city at any bar with a piano, and discovered Tramps, the legendary New York City club which brought in many giants of classic rhythm and blues, and which brought in many of the great New Orleans artists. Josh honed his craft by listening and learning from the masters of the New Orleans sound and mentored by Crescent City transplant, Dr. John. In August 2005, he was in New Orleans readying to move in as well as record down there. But fate in the form of Hurricane Katrina intervened and he was on one of the last buses out.

In 2009 he recorded a single
Healing Time, which provided a small window into the struggle of what the citizens of New Orleans have felt since Katrina. All the proceeds from the success of Healing Time have gone back into the community in the city he loves toward rebuilding the city. Healing Time is included in his just issued album, Love Work & Money (CC Entertainment/El Records). It has him with members of Dr. John’s Band as well as his own touring band and was recorded in New Orleans as well as New York. With the exception of a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder The Come, Charles wrote or co-wrote the nine originals here.

Listening to this I am tempted to burden Charles by describing him as a blue-eyed Allen Toussaint. I do not mean that Charles is a Toussaint imitator, but his vocals, piano and the general feel of the material is suggestive of the New Orleans legend, in the nature of his songwriting, use of vocal chorus backing and the general groove. Given how Toussaint’s productions shaped much of what we think as New Orleans music over the past five decades the fact that Charles’ soulful efforts here sound like they could have been all recorded in New Orleans shouldn’t be surprising given how he immersed himself in New Orleans grooves in New York. I think Toussaint would be proud of Charles with the opening,
The Waiting Game, a nice piece of funk as Charles sings about waiting for the phone call or a train or a check to clear as well as the title track with its churchy piano opening before delivering a message about how love work and money makes the world go round and what brings one up can bring one down. 

Jimmy Cliff’s classic The Harder They Come, is a nice change of pace with its caribbean groove. Pickin’ Up the Pieces, opens with a classic Crescent City piano riffs, before Charles takes us with a piece of bluesy soul with perhaps more of a tint of Memphis than New Orleans. The afore-mentioned Healing Time, is included and one can understand why this remarkable song about coping with the hard times has been so well received. Other songs such as Stars, and the closing Just a Man, further display Charles strengths as a songwriter of soulful songs and a solid, genuine singer. This is an impressive release and this writer certainly hopes he can see him live.

This review appear originally in the May 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 325). My review copy was provided by a publicist.

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